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HIV travel and immigration ban lifted

(WASHINGTON D.C.) The U.S. government today lifted the HIV travel ban, which had prohibited HIV positive visitors and immigrants from entering the country. The ban was established in 1987.

The regulation promulgated by the Obama administration last summer and finalized in November went into effect today, removing HIV from the list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

“Twenty-two years ago, in a decision rooted in fear rather than fact, the United States instituted a travel ban on entry into the country for people living with HIV/AIDS,” said President Barack Obama in an October 30 press conference. “Now, we talk about reducing the stigma of this disease -- yet we've treated a visitor living with it as a threat. We lead the world when it comes to helping stem the AIDS pandemic -- yet we are one of only a dozen countries that still bar people with HIV from entering our own country.

“If we want to be the global leader in combating HIV/AIDS, we need to act like it. Congress and President Bush began this process last year, and they ought to be commended for it. We are finishing the job. [Lifting the ban] will encourage people to get tested and get treatment, it's a step that will keep families together, and it's a step that will save lives.”

In July 2008, President Bush signed into law, as part of the reauthorization of the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a provision that removed the ban from statute and returned regulatory authority to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to determine whether HIV should remain on a list of communicable diseases that bar foreign nationals from entering the United States.

The travel and immigration ban prohibited HIV-positive foreign nationals from entering the U.S. unless they obtained a special waiver, which was difficult to secure and then only allowed for short-term travel. The policy also prevented the vast majority of foreign nationals with HIV from obtaining legal permanent residency in the United States.

“The United States of America has moved one step closer to helping combat the stigma and ignorance that still too often guides public policy debates around HIV/AIDS,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese. “Today, a sad chapter in our nation’s response to people with HIV and AIDS has finally come to a close and we are a better nation for it. This policy, in place for more than two decades, was unnecessary, ineffective and lacked any public health justification.”

According to an article in the Huffington Post, later this afternoon a plane will arrive from the Netherlands carrying two HIV positive men, Clemens Ruland and Hugo Bausch, signifying the end of the “shameful and discriminatory policy that has exacted a heavy price on our country's reputation in the scientific community and kept countless individuals - both straight and gay - separated from their loved ones.”